Theorizing identity at work : exotic dancing as a site for organizational and occupational research
There is a plethora of research in organization studies that explores identity at work. Most of this research, however, focuses upon one or two aspects of identity without exploring the intersections and interactions among these different aspects. Recently, it has also been argued that the literature fails to pay adequate attention to the role of agency in identity construction. Moreover, identity researchers are critiquing the notion of identity as stable and singular, contending identity is not about what one becomes, rather it is a process of becoming underpinned by multiplicity, flux and contradiction. Conceptualizing identity as a process of becoming this research explored how the subjective individual makes sense of her work-based identity. Adopting a social constructivist paradigm individual experience, that of researcher and 'participants', has been a central focus in doing this. This research offers a more complete picture of identity at work by capturing agency, as well as various (re)sources that the individual might draw upon. To illuminate new ways of 'seeing' identity at work, this research looked to an 'alternative site' of study, that is, exotic dancing, to explore work-based identity. For Your Eyes Only (FYEO), a chain of `gentlemen's' clubs located in the United Kingdom, was selected as the site of study. Through a one-year archival analysis of popular press and corporate documents a number of discourses circulating about exotic dancing surfaced, including, discourses of Public Dis(Order), Criminality, Deviance and Immorality, Surveillance, Growth and Art and Entertainment. Several of these discourses position sex work, specifically exotic dancing, as bad sex and thus 'dirty work'. This illuminates the historical, subjective and objective aspects of organizational life, as well as how occupational status plays a role in an individual's identity work. Coupled with this, through interviews with dancers and managers, as well as analysis of corporate documents and popular press accounts of the club, the extent to which the organization was a (re)source in the individual's identity construction became apparent. FYEO makes great efforts to position the club in a positive way in the industry and to various constituents, constructing an organizational identity based upon exclusivity and 'high quality' service. In drawing upon these macro (re)sources and relations with others dancers engage in a variety of processes to construct work-based identity roles as a means of 'ordering' or making sense of who they, and others, are. The meanings associated with these roles are constantly negotiated and dancers often perform several different, sometimes contradictory, roles in their process of becoming. This research offers another way to understand agency in identity at work. Through the individual's struggles to balance the multiplicity and contradictions with her desire for 'order', it is conceptualized that agency may be present even when we cannot 'see' it. The contradictions heard through individual's stories illustrate that agency exists, both as actions we can see, as well as in the 'internal' struggles an individual experiences. Emotion work is re-conceptualized to capture the agency seen, and heard, through the stories told by individuals. Furthermore, dirty work, identity regulation as a form of organizational control and social identity are fused with emotion work as a heuristic for identity at work researchers to illuminate various interacting and intersecting macro, meso and micro (re)sources the individual draws upon in her identity at work. Finally, in exploring the sameness and difference between 'dirty work', specifically exotic dancing in this case, and other forms of work this research makes space for, and calls for, alternative learning in organization studies.